WASHINGTON -- Elliott Abrams, the former assistant secretary of state who was one of the Reagan administration's fiercest advocates of armed support for the Nicaraguan rebels, pleaded guilty yesterday to two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress about secret efforts to aid the guerrillas.
Abrams' guilty pleas and his promise to cooperate with Iran-contra prosecutors may open another avenue for investigators as they make what appears to be a final push to broaden their search for wrongdoing at the senior levels of the Reagan administration.
The independent prosecutor, Lawrence E. Walsh, was recently forced to drop all charges against a main figure in the case, Oliver L. North, but he has made some headway in pursuing efforts to conceal the affair at the CIA. The Abrams investigation takes Mr. Walsh for the first time into the Reagan State Department.
Yesterday's legal action came in two parts. In the morning, prosecutors disclosed the charges against Abrams, making public the two misdemeanor counts against him. Later, at the hearing in federal court, the plea bargain was disclosed along with Abrams' promise to cooperate by agreeing to testify truthfully to the grand jury or in court proceedings in other cases.
The events yesterday came as a stunning reversal for Abrams, who has insisted that he never knowingly misled Congress. But in court, Abrams admitted that he had unlawfully kept information from two congressional committees in the fall of 1986 when he testified about his knowledge of the secret contra supply network and about his role in soliciting a $10 million contributionfor the contras from the sultan of Brunei.
Federal District Judge Aubrey E. Robinson Jr. set Abrams' sentencing date for Nov. 15.
At the hearing, the judge asked Abrams twice how he pleaded, and each time he answered unhesitatingly, "I plead guilty."
But outside the courthouse, Abrams sounded unrepentant as he strode briskly to the bank of microphones, nodded to reporters and said he believed at the time that the activities on which he testified in 1986 were "proper and lawful."
"I take full responsibility for my actions," he said, adding that he is "proud to have given 12 years serving the United States government and of the contributions I made in those years."